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Topographical, architectural and engineering plans in the
The plans collection is a very diverse one. Since the NRS is the official repository for a host of governmental and quasi-governmental bodies in Scotland, the series includes plans from government departments and agencies, nationalised industries, and the courts, as well as churches, private organisations, landed estates and families. Most of the manuscript plans are unique, while many of the engraved and lithographed plans have only survived in limited quantities. The collection also includes a number of photo reproductions of original plans which are either in private hands or held by other institutions.
The National Records of Scotland (NRS) has a series of records known as the Register House Plans (RHP). It is an artificial collection of around 150,000 topographical plans, marine charts, architectural and engineering drawings (for convenience, the term 'plan' will be used to refer to all categories). Owing to their size and varied formats, plans require special storage conditions. It was therefore decided in the 1960s that plans should be removed from their collections and added to the RHP series, with a cross-reference back to the parent collection. This policy was not always rigorously adhered to, however, and it is still possible to find smaller plans in their original files or bundles.
The vast majority of the plans are topographical in nature, and the NRS has the largest collection of original maps and plans of Scotland. Most date from 1750 or later, as cartography in Scotland only began to flourish during the 18th century under the influence of agricultural improvement, when landowners employed surveyors to map their estates.
The National Records of Scotland welcomes gifts of plans or other documents recording the history of Scotland, the land and its peoples. If you have records you are considering depositing with the NRS, please contact us.
Register House Plans series (RHP)
- Estate plans
Farms, runrigs, improved estates, feuing plans, quarries, saltpans and commonties
Railways, roads, bridges, canals and harbours and tramways
Churches, schools, public buildings, private houses, railway stations, farm buildings and mills
- Public utilities
Electricity, gas and water
Technical plans of mining and shipbuilding
Showing agricultural scenes, people at work, buildings and ships
Access to the plans collection
The plans series may be searched on the NRS Online Catalogue, which has replaced the traditional paper catalogues and card indexes. Catalogue descriptions include location, surveyor, engineer or architect, as well as the subject, date and origin of the plan. For topographical and architectural plans, the 'Place Authority' search option allows searches to be restricted to the civil parish whose boundaries will often differ from those of the city, town or settlement of the same name. Scottish plans are located by civil parish and county, according to the boundaries in existence immediately before the reorganisation of local government in 1975. This means that cities and towns may fall within the boundaries of a number of civil parishes, all of which will require to be searched independently. Other plans of the British Isles are similarly located but by county and country rather than by civil parish and county. Foreign plans are initially located by country and continent.
Detailed descriptions of the first 5,000 entries have been published in the 'Descriptive List of Plans in the Scottish Record Office' (4 volumes) by Ian H Adams and Loretta R Timperley, which is on sale in General Register House.
Most plans in the NRS collections are part of the RHP series, with two important exceptions.
Other maps and plans in the NRS
The first is the sasine plans, which were recorded as preservation writs from 1868 onwards (RD16). From 1925 duplicate plans could be also recorded along with the sasines or, from 1934, recorded with the deeds themselves.
The other is the series of Ordnance Survey maps marked up in connection with a survey by the Inland Revenue to determine the value of all land in the UK, 1909-1915. They provide the key to the Inland Revenue field books (IRS).
Access conditions to plans as of September 2012
You will normally be given access to the digital image of a plan in the Historical Search Room, rather than to the original record. For each plan access request submitted to the Historical Search Room only 6 individual plans or 1 bound set of plans (plan book) can be requested at once.
Where a plan has not already been imaged, we will aim to make an image available in the Historical Search Room within ten working days of the request being accepted. In certain cases it may also be possible to view a plan remotely on the ScotlandsPlaces website.
If we are unable to make a plan available in this way owing to its condition, or for technical, ownership or copyright reasons, it may be possible to inspect the original plan at the Plans facility at Thomas Thomson House, on a Wednesday morning or afternoon, by appointment with the Historical Search Room.
Copying of plans
It may not be possible to obtain copies of plans which are physically unsuitable for copying, for example those in poor condition or too large. We will advise you on whether copies may be made of particular plans and any other restrictions, such as the need to obtain the permission of the owner and copyright holder.
Plans held elsewhere
Ordnance Survey maps
If you are interested in Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, you should contact the Map Library of the National Library of Scotland, 33 Salisbury Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1SL. The RHP series contains only OS sheets which have been court productions or marked for a special purpose, frequently to indicate the ownership and boundaries of land and types of land classification. Other marked OS sheets held by the NRS appear in the Inland Revenue (Scotland) series (IRS).
While the National Records of Scotland holds shipbuilding plans, those collections which relate to the west of Scotland shipbuilders are in the custody of Glasgow City Archives and Glasgow University Archives. Information can be found on their websites. For fuller details, see 'The Shipbuilding Industry: a Guide to Historical Records' ed. L A Ritchie, 1992.
National Records of Scotland